Thinking Out Loud

13th Age: Icon Relationship Roll Frequency

I just (literally a minute ago) realized one of my problems with the Icon Relationship Roll is its frequency.

Given how relatively short our sessions are, and how large a chunk of them has so far been eaten up by fights, the rolls are far too frequent. Three sessions in, the characters just had their first full heal-up; there have been three fights, though depending on how you count them they qualify as 4-6, really. All this has happened within less than 24h of game time.

During that time we’ve rolled Icon Relationships three times. If this frequency continues it means on average 5 Icon “interventions” per fight, and 15 of them per a day of in-game time. The current adventure will probably continue for at least 3 sessions more, which means I can expect a ballpark total of 30 Icon interventions for this single adventure! If all adventures occur at a similar pace, it will also mean that every Icon Relationship the characters have is exceedingly likely to feature in every single adventure.

Uh, yeah, that is wonky. Wonky in many ways. I wonder what frequency Tweet’s and Heinsoos’ games actually have?

I don’t have a solution yet (hey, it’s been now maybe 15 minutes since I realized this issue!), but I’m thinking about it. Some sort of cap seems in order. At most 1 roll per full heal-up? At most 1 roll per day/week/something?

Given the thinking behind my previous attempt to tweak the icon relationship roll rules, have the hunch that I may want to have different caps for different purposes. Maybe instead of splitting the results between boons and complications based on 5s and 6s I should ask for eg. boon rolls per full heal-up and complication rolls per scenario?

That doesn’t sound half bad, actually.

Save It

Note to players in my 13th Age campaign: this is just flushing out an old draft I had lying around, nothing directly related to our campaign. Never fear. Much.

Here’s what I think about “Save or Die”.

I think Save or Die has both potential for extreme excitement, and extreme suckage.

It’s exciting while you try to stay safe from having to make the roll at all. It can even be exciting to make the roll.

It sucks when it comes from nowhere. It sucks if you see it coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

I think a lot of the suckage is down to the way the timing works. “Crap, I was bitten! Crap, I’m dead!” There’s no curve to it — the gradient is extremely steep, if not infinite. You don’t even have time to appreciate the inevitability of you doom.

This analysis, no matter how trite it is, suggests a couple of things that can be done without compromising on the excitement while reducing the suckage:

  • Save Or Die should not be a surprise, mostly. An old-school dungeon crawl is largely about treating the dungeon itself as an extremely dangerous opponent: if you don’t know something is safe, you’re better off assuming it’s deadly; and having things which are Save Or Die is a great way to underline that, even if they don’t always carry clear warning labels…
  • Save or Die doesn’t have to be instant. It can be “Save or Die in two days.” It can be “Save or Lose 1d6 hp / round until dead.” It can even include the possibility of treatment in that period, though I would be careful about that: it might easily turn into something the GM is then obliged to provide, in which case leaving Save or Die out of the game entirely is probably a better idea.

Anyways, this is what I thought about this almost two years ago. :)

Cardinal Moves

Some worthwhile thoughts on giving scale and directions over at Dungeon Fantastic. Subject was also recently broached over at the Autarch forums. There’s also the fantastic Tale of Two Maps at Story Games.

I’m still new at this. While I’ve run games where mapping matters before, it’s been a long enough a while that I feel like I’m starting with a clean slate. Last session we had a short discussion on the phrasing I use when describing a corridor what turns. What does “hallways continues for 30′ and then turns left” mean? How long are the left and right straight walls? I think we got that sorted out…

One the subject of using North/South versus Left/Right styles, I think next session I will try to do both. First give a thumbnail sketch without accurate directions, then assuming the characters are moving at exploration speed give out cardinal directions and measurements.

Otherwise, this is what I’ve been doing so far:

  • When rooms are regular, they have light, and are moving at the normal exploration rate I describe things as clearly as I can. If there’s mistake that would be obvious to the characters I will point it out. Exploration movement is really slow and IMO assumes they’re being careful about measuring things, etc.
  • If there’s an irregular or tricky room I might sketch it — assuming they have light and are moving slowly.
  • I very much try to observe the visibility rules: 30′ with a torch. (The important corollary is that light sources can be seen much farther than they illuminate.)
  • If the light is bad or movement is faster I describe things less accurately.
  • If they’re moving too quickly to map they must draw the map after the fact. (This is when the mapping proficiency will be handy.)
  • The character who draws the map has it. If the party splits and they have only one map… ooops. If the map is dropped, I take hold of it while it’s on the ground.
  • Those mapping cannot carry torches or lanterns, and cannot hold shields or weapons in hand.

I haven’t been 100% strict about all this all the time — but when I’ve slipped it’s because I’ve slipped, not because I thought it a good idea at the time.

Couple of extended possibilities I’m also contemplating:

  • Allowing exploration speed to be the speed of the slowest mapper. Allowing those not mapping to search one 10′ by 10′ area for traps or secret doors per turn if they also move at their exploration speed. This would mean somewhat faster movement if there are just one or two people carrying heavy burdens — it’s not like everyone has to count their paces, only the mappers. It would also allow more of the dungeon to be spot-searched without increasing the number of random encounters.
  • Allowing mapping at double exploration speed at the cost of accuracy. “The corridor continues straight 40-60 yards.”

What do you think?

Off the Grid

I prefer to play and run RPGs where combat is gridless.

I don’t hate grids, but I find they tend to focus attention on the table as opposed to the fiction between the players. Maybe that doesn’t happen in every group, but I’ve seen it happen, and I know it happens if I use a grid.

I think I also know why it happens.

Without a grid — even if you use floorplans sketched on paper, tokens, figures, etc to clarify positioning — fiction by necessity remains the primary source of information. Any visual aids on the table are just a map, not the territory. To understand the situation the group must refer to the fiction.

With a grid it very easily becomes the primary source of situational information. Fiction must still correspond to it, but as it becomes subordinate to the grid its importance is diminished, and there is a tendency to relegate it to mere fluff. The grid is the territory and the map in one.

I know some people play with grids without the fiction suffering. Reading about their games actually made this click for me: the umpteenth time someone mentioned how they re-incorporate everything that happens on the grid back into the fiction I realized that that’s my disconnect. I don’t have the discipline to do that consistently, and so fiction recedes into distance.

This doesn’t happen to everyone, but I know it happens to me. So I don’t use grids in my games.

Mortal Wounds

ACKS has a Mortal Wounds rule which gives characters hitting 0hp or less a chance to survive — and provides scarred and crippled veterans. As an old WFRP (1st edition!) fan I like the table quite a bit, but… I do have a few issues with it.

I’m really not such a fan of delaying the description of the manner the character went down till someone goes and administers to them. The timing is wrong, especially considering some of the results the table gives: “A red stain and shards of bone are all that remain.” …that should really be apparent the moment someone is hit, methinks. :)


  • If a competent healer administers Cure Serious Wounds on the next round (during the next 10 seconds), a CON +3 character will always survive at least another turn (10 minutes.) No matter what damage has been done.
  • If the same healer delays for an hour, it can turn out that the character was instantly killed the moment they were hit — an hour ago — and “The bloody mess that was once your body is dimly recognizable.” …so why did the healer waste a Cure Serious Wounds on the obvious corpse? Because on a better roll it could have turned out OK, with the wounded party needing nothing more than some magical healing and a night’s rest…

These aren’t huge issues, but they are glitches.

Options I’m contemplating are changing it so that the roll is made when the injury is received (instead of when someone tries to administer treatment), and completely rewriting the table to a WFRP-style critical hit table.

Must Think On This. Will play RAW for a while yet, though.

Still, I’m pretty amused by the fact that adding a table like this to a OD&Dish game decreases mortality: instead of dying outright when hitting 0hp you have a chance of surviving … or being horribly disfigured. :P